Pickleball Strategy Sessions: Hard vs Soft Shots
We love watching YouTube videos of the incredible professional pickleballers. These men and women are really good! It enjoyable to simply appreciate their talent but what can we learn about winning pickleball strategy from watching? How can we incorporate what we see into lessons that improve our game?
Pro Tip: Use the Soft Shots to Set Up the Hard Ones.
The game has evolved in the past few years. Rewind to a professional match back in 2012 and compare it to a game in today. You'll notice a faster kitchen, firmer shots, and more difficult shots being featured in today's game whereas before most everything was soft. So what is the optimal approach? Is "a strong defense is the best offense" the right approach or is going on the offensive early and often better suited to winning pickleball?
I think the truth lies somewhere in the middle. Use those soft shots when they are the right play and then pounce with something firm when the opportunity is right. In short, go soft and wait for the kill!
So in the future we'll likely see a combination of soft and firm play. There is no magic formula - players need to know when to adapt to both the incoming shot and their competition. You also have to know your own strengths and weaknesses. If you can outdink your opponents it is a great idea to pull them into a soft game. They will likely get impatient and go for broke resulting in unforced errors.
What can I do to incorporate this strategy into my game and become a better pickleballer?
Strengthen both aspects of your game - being a well rounded player will serve you well. When you're facing opponents that press the action and hit hard you should work on blocking, keeping the ball low, and forcing them to come up to the kitchen where they are likely not as comfortable. When facing off against players that only want to play soft, try and push them to the back line and place some well-striked flat balls in the "grey area". Hit a couple of balls hard and see if you can get your opponent to pop one up for you to gobble up.
The bottom line is you shouldn't just pick one "strategy" and never deviate from it. That will make you predictable and easy to play against. Watch the pros and remember the soft then hard approach. Adapt based on your skills and counter what you're opponent is trying to do. Try out the 'go soft and wait for the kill approach' and see how it works for you.
See you on the court - Happy Pickleballing!